Ugh. That Grumpy Relative! Uncle Ralph just confirmed he will be here for the holidays. He is probably the grumpiest person! Wait. No. I would have to give that award to Aunt Priss. How that woman comes up with a new list of complaints each year is amazing. And wouldn’t you know it. This is my year to host, and I can’t leave early from my own home!
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Is that the conversation going through your mind right now? Dealing with that grumpy relative is one of the most difficult things we can do. It is even more difficult during the holidays because it is combined with all the other added stress and workload.
You can’t just tell Uncle Ralph and Aunt Priss to stay home. But you can get a handle on it before they show up.
Seating Chart for that Grumpy Relative
Do Uncle Ralph and Grandpa Bob get in a shouting match each year? This year, put them at opposite ends of the table. Make sure they are out of direct line of sight of each other, as much as possible. Seat them next to someone they enjoy – or at least like a little.
Does Aunt Priss have a relative who is able to control her complaints? Seat her next to them. Does she have a sister or brother she will listen to? Maybe it’s time to talk to them. Ask them if they can ask Aunt Priss to keep the complaints to a minimum, for the sake of the holiday.
(need a little extra help? Check out this Holiday Planner!)
Keep the Conversation Moving in the Right Direction
First, you need to always remember, Politics and Religion do not make a peaceful dinner conversation. Especially if you have those with seriously opposing viewpoints. Set the ground rules early. No discussing controversial topics at the table.
You may have to make a personal list of acceptable topics, and introduce them periodically. If it can be done without it becoming a personal challenge for someone else, then ‘appoint’ each person as a topic ‘expert’. “Aunt Margaret. You are an excellent cook. I just saw a recipe for rhubarb pie that looked interesting. What do you think about rhubarb?” “Uncle Al, I was considering getting a small tool box to keep in the house. You work with tools all the time. What do you think I should get?”
Make topics general. And keep an eye on Aunt Priss. If she starts complaining, redirect the conversation to a compliment. See if that helps. One thing to keep in mind. Everyone loves to be complimented, and enjoy being in the spotlight, even if only for a moment. See that this happens with each of your guests. While one is still basking in the attention, they will be too distracted to start an argument with someone else.
Distractions for the Grumpy Relative
Okay. This one may put you in the direct line of fire for gripes, complaints and insults. But remember – you can rise above by preparing yourself mentally ahead of time.
Ask the grumpy relative to help. Have them peel carrots. Chop vegetables. Set the table. Extra chairs are always needed, so have them bring them to the table. Or ask them to give you some one-on-one time and help wash up the dishes.
Having them help serve dessert always is a good distraction. Ask them what their favorite is and why. If it is something that isn’t available, ask them if they will share a recipe so you can make it next year.
The Direct Approach
Although you don’t want to start an argument with a direct verbal missile, you can deflect a problem by being direct. Simply ask the one who is out of line if they can save that line of conversation for outside. Do it gently. Present it as a laugh (but not if it means making them the butt of some hidden joke).
All you have to do is say, “I really want this year to be pleasant. Can we save that conversation for later?”
Remove Yourself from that Grumpy Relative
If the grumpy relative is sitting next to you, this one may break the moment. Simply say, ‘Hold that thought. I’ll be right back.” Then stand up and go to the restroom, or to the kitchen and get a clean fork or napkin. For that matter, go talk to the cows. Just take at least a minute or two. That should be long enough to distract them from what they were saying. When you get back to the table, be prepared with a question or statement that redirects the conversation.
Some folks just like to be grumpy. No matter what, they cling to it like it was a security blanket. These are folks you just will not make happy, no matter what you do. If that is the case, prepare yourself mentally beforehand. Do not allow it to add more stress. And as much as possible, ignore the grumpiness.
Do you deal with grumpy relatives? Share what you have found that works to ease the burden. The holidays are heading our way, and we can all use a little help from our friends!